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The personal blog of Colin Brandt, Ukrainian Organic Mic Mechanic
I’d normally start writing a new entry by making some smartass comment about not really having an excuse, and admonishing myself to write more, but to be quite honest I haven’t exactly been in the mood to write another breezy piece about how great the Parkdale Farmer’s Market is (though it is great, check that shit out). I’ve had some pretty serious stuff happen in my life over the last few months and while it hasn’t taken the joy out of writing for me, it’s made it spectacularly hard to concentrate on anything beyond my immediate circumstances. Questions like “where will I be sleeping tonight”, “will I die alone surrounded by cats, and am I really upset about the idea of them eating my corpse”, and “what is the appropriate emotional reaction to having your life explode in front of you” tend to overwhelm and shut down the part of me that likes to be creative.
I’m three days out from my first attempt at being alone since I was 21. When I look back on that person, it doesn’t seem conceivable that I’m the same guy. The world – my world – was so different then. People, we did not have Facebook the last time I was single! Twitter was but a glimmer in the Fail Whale’s eye! I thought I might make an excellent Prime Minister!
This summer, I had my appendix removed the day I returned from a trip to Spain. Long story short, my surgery was referred to by my resident as a horror show, which was a delight to hear, but I kind of believed him since the pain was so bad that my lungs collapsed. Not being able to take a full breath for four days was a bummer, and my mobility was so crap that I couldn’t walk more than 100 feet down the hospital corridor with my buddy the IV stand before I had to turn around. The pain was tolerable with enough morphine, but I was eager as hell to get out of the hospital and when I finally was released, I didn’t really care if I was ready or not, I just wanted to get out of there.
I took some time, I rested and recuperated. For a few days, I had trouble doing simple stuff without lying down on the couch and sleeping for a while. I had a literal hole in me where my drain had been; the incision scar and swelling made it look like I had a miniature sideways butt right at my waistband below my belly button. I had to wear swimming trunks exclusively because anything with an inelastic waistband felt like barbed wire.
In a week, I was back at work, definitely not 100%, but to my surprise I didn’t come back to a massive pile of accumulated assignments and overdue projects. I came back to a clean desk, with major initiatives I had spearheaded moving forward without me – my team had kept the ball rolling and made sure nothing fell off the edge of my desk or got missed. I had never experienced anything like this before in my working life – a team of people who had been there and supported me through a really nasty thing, doing it because they genuinely cared and wanted to make sure I got better.
I can’t help but feel the parallels with what I’m experiencing now. I feel like I’ve been through something extremely painful that reduced me to survival mode. All of my energy and effort has been focused on my relationship and in trying to keep it going. I’ve been feeling alone and scared as hell and unable to breathe, except it’s been going on not for four days but for a year.
Now, the surgery is over. Whatever has happened to my heart, whatever damage I might have incurred, it’s happened, and now I’m in the recovery stage. Things still hurt – there’s nothing like the joys of anxiety to remind you of what it feels like to never sleep again – and some days it feels like I should probably just stay home, slide under the covers and watch Freaks and Geeks for 10 consecutive hours until I can start drinking with a manageable level of shame. Either way, I know things are bound to improve from here, if only because they couldn’t get a whole heck of a lot worse.
But throughout this process, I’ve discovered how ridiculous it’s been to feel alone. Since I started to break the news to people, I feel this enormous surge of relief, of not having to hide behind my pride and act like everything is OK. I’m filled – absolutely to the brim – with love and support from friends and family. Just like when I got out of the hospital and back to work, I’ve found that people’s genuine care – their capacity to just be there for you, even if they don’t know what more to say than “wow…uh, that fucking sucks, dude” has been the single most important thing to help me heal. The blast of text messages, emails, phone calls, Facebook stuff – it’s forcing me out of my shell, keeping me social and interacting with others, and helping me remember and rethink about what it is to be just me – just Colin – not “Colin and Inesia”. It turns out those two entities may be pretty different things.
Four months from my surgery and recovery, I feel healthy. My lungs can fill with air, I can play basketball terribly again. My drain incision healed up and the swelling went down, and now my scar looks like someone drew a line in felt tip pen delineating the precise halfway mark between my belly button and my junk, which has led me to consider some very, very bad ideas for tattoos (please try, and fail, to get the image of a “you must be this tall to ride” sign out of your head – I know I have).
I know that I’m going to get there again, too. I know I’ll be okay, that I won’t actually die alone, gnawed on by Meak or his future brethren. Virtually everyone that reads this blog and many, many others have put in time in the last while to help hold me up, to keep me moving and to remind me that there will be an end to this – a moment where I can return to the land of the fully living, to return the favour a hundred times over.
So, thank you, thank you all so much for everything you’ve done, for your support and love. You have done more than you know to help me start to heal. I love you all so much.
Directly from the Diamond Rings website:
Although he learned piano, guitar, and saxophone at a young age, John O (as his friends call him) was more into playing dress-up with his cousin Lisa while dreaming of a life beyond the Toronto suburbs where he was born. Of course, being the only kid on the block that wanted to pair a ballerina tutu from the tickle trunk with hockey gloves didn’t always make things easy. As he explains, “when I was in high school I never really identified with that macho jock attitude but because I played on the basketball team I couldn’t hang with the goths and punks either. Let’s just say I spent alot of time alone trying to figure myself out.”
Shall we revise?
Although he learned jazz dance and guitar at a young age, Colin B was more into playing dress-up with his cousin Missy while dreaming of a life beyond the Calgary suburbs where he was born. Of course, being the only kid on the block that wanted to pair a black turtleneck with a football helmet didn’t always make things easy. As he explains, “when I was in high school I never really identified with that macho jock attitude but because I played on the football team I couldn’t hang with the goths and choir either. Let’s just say I spent a lot of time alone trying to figure myself out.”
Is there any wonder I identify with this guy. And not just because I can actually sing in his range for once.
I’m a gamer. I’ve been one my entire life; hell, before I finally badgered my parents into getting me the classic grey-and-black Nintendo Entertainment System, I used to play Intellivison at my babysitter’s house (portmanteaus/weird dial controller 4 LIFE). I love card games, board games, sports – I love it all.
As a kid who routinely felt powerless and confused by the wider world, gaming gave me the ability to control my own destiny – to match wits against a series of problems, and beat them – had a huge appeal. It still does.
Gaming is undergoing a sea change right now. For the last five years, the gaming industry’s revenues outstripped Hollywood and the music industry, and at a growth rate of more than 9% annually, is expected to eclipse their combined revenue within 10 years. With big money has come an increased emphasis on games as art, as the industry has expanded into increasingly baroque subcategories.
There are indie games, games as art, games as storytelling vehicles, music games, casual games, massively multiplayer online role playing games, augmented reality gaming – we are effectively at the moment when games have reached a tipping point where you are less likely to meet someone who doesn’t game as you are to meet someone who does. It seems like there’s something out there for everyone. Except there isn’t.
The single greatest thing about games is that they are immersive in a way that goes beyond any other medium. In order to successfully play a game, you must become something other than yourself – a sword wielding hero, a player on an NHL team in a lockout season, a temple-robbing adventurer, a jewel-shifting-whatever-the-fucker.
For every hurr-durr Call of Duty or retread of last year’s virtually identical sports game, we are getting games that combine jaw-dropping art direction with social psychology, games that teach you how to pop and lock, first-person shooters with more multilayered cultural references and deadpan humor than Arrested Development and underwater dystopias that act as one of the most nuanced criticisms of Objectivism since Adorno and Horkheimer.
The funniest thing I heard this year wasn’t a stand-up routine, or a comedy on TV or at the movies – it was a game where I played a silent female protagonist solving a first-person puzzle game involving teleportation and malevolent AIs. The most beautiful western I saw last year wasn’t True Grit, it was a game where I played a cowboy looking to be reunited with his family, made by the same sociopaths who brought you Grand Theft Auto. The most pants-shittingly-scared I have ever been wasn’t during a horror movie, it was as an engineer fighting reconstituted undead on a planet-cracking mining ship orbiting a strange alien world.
I honestly feel really, really bad for people who don’t want to grab a controller and just try this stuff. They are missing out on some of the best culture we are producing right now.
The best gaming moments are the ones where you can appreciate the art of what the game is doing, and made even better if you can share it with others. That sharing can include cooperation or competition – I’m not asking the world to get rid of face-shootin’ any time soon – I like shootin’ the occasional face – but the best moments are when you go “holy shit, did you just see that?”.
The best video game moment of my life was sitting in a friends’ basement with 10 other people, playing a cheap plastic guitar while my friends “played” the bass, drums and sang along. I looked over and realized that our singer was being joined by a chorus of everyone else in the room, and for a brief moment it felt like we were a real band with real fans. That’s an indelible experience, something that connected me with the people I love in a way that even watching a rock concert would have never brought me.
But like virtually every mass-media cultural product that came before it, games started off as a product created and consumed by men. For the first 30 years of gaming, tastes and products were determined by gaming’s creators – young men who were often acting out their own sense of powerlessness by creating worlds that they felt comfortable in. From its inception, the idea of “girl gamers” has been seen as either:
While gaming seems delighted to take ladies’ money, each one of these models keeps women on the outside of what is considered to be – at least for a certain subsection of the culture – the elite, or 1337 side of gaming. “Elite” in this case being a part of T3H H4RDC0R3Z – those people who treat gaming as a lifestyle, not just something they do in lieu of watching reruns of Breaking Bad. This group is remarkable in that they see themselves as elite – despite the evidence to the contrary – and band together online to preserve their exclusivity, walling off their world from noobs and outsiders, routinely using hate speech and incredibly puerile insults to protect what they see as the mass culture’s incursion on their territory.
I really, really hate these guys.
Games are changing. Shit, culture is changing, and these guys are fighting it tooth and nail. Read any article about women in gaming – be it an executive for a major multinational gaming company, girls who play or write about games for a living, or individuals who are critiquing gaming from a feminist perspective – and you’ll see message boards filled with personal attacks, critiques of the subjects’ appearance, threats of rape and murder and worse. These people – and their “FUCKING FAGGOT” contemporaries in the world of online gaming – do more to set games back as a form of art than the worst Doom-playin’ school shooter.
I can’t think of many games that could pass the Bechdel Test, but thankfully things are starting to move in the right direction. Conversations have begun about the role of gender in gaming, with multimillion-selling games like Mass Effect including not only the option of a (frankly, much better-written and acted) female protagonist, but the inclusion of same-sex relationship options for both gender. While the system is still overwhelmingly biased in favor of male characters, there’s at least an acknowledgement that hey, sometimes it’s fun to play as a girl, the same way it’s really fun to pretend you’re a fucking space marine. Seriously, I want to be a lady space marine when I grow up.
My friend Allison thinks that this change – and the subsequent reaction to it – is the outcome of the continued push to create a more representative culture; one that better reflects the world we actually live in. This is necessarily at the expense of the ubiquitous while male, and as women keep pushing for their rightful place in the culture, the people who already feel like they are disconnected and disempowered in other way are reacting to what they perceive as yet another safe place they are having disrupted by outside forces. Quite frankly, I’m delighted. I’m tired of being me, sometimes – that’s why I play games, for Chrissakes. I hope this bullshit is just the death rattle of that hardcore culture.
More and more, I’m seeing women – coworkers, friends, acquaintances, you name it – who are playing the same games as these guys. They are taking the fight to them , in their own way, and doing it while having fun. When I ask them why they like the game they play, they might comment on the gameplay, or the writing, or the people they play with, not because they are trying to prove a point. In fact, they usually give the same answer I do.
If the hardcore people have a problem with reality, that’s understandable. If they were anything like me, it was usually that reality that drove them to play video games in the first place. But you don’t take the hard bumps you get in the real world and act them out on the people who want to join you in your imaginary one. You recognize and have empathy with them, you include them in your narrative and you grow your tent; if you lose a little control along the way, that’s okay. Besides, I can’t hit the high notes in Rock Band and I need someone to be my Steve Perry.
*A huge thanks to Allison McNeely, web editor of the universe, for giving me this title and helping me walk through this topic that I honestly feel wholly underqualified to discuss.
I know this is awkward and I feel ashamed having to do this en masse, but I need to be honest with myself and with everyone about what I need in my life and it is probably better to do this in front of everyone and just get it out of the way.
There’s a secret I’ve been hiding from most of you for a few years, and not revealing it has become increasingly difficult. I don’t think I can pretend any longer and while it may have a real impact on my relationships with friends and family, it’s too important to ignore.
I know this may be hard for some of you to understand, and I don’t blame you. It’s something that many people don’t want to talk about even in this modern day and age, but I feel like I should be brave and tell the truth, even if it hurts.
I want to try Dungeons and Dragons.
Old school table-top style, with people creating their own characters and acting in-character for the duration of the game. Dungeon Masters, multisided dies, orcs, acid pits, the whole shebang.
I might be the only one I know, and if that’s the case, at least I told the truth. But if anyone wants to try it with me, message me. I promise we will be discreet.
Okay, by their action figures, but still.
Wait for 1:46 for the rare but beautiful Double Picard Facepalm.
There is literally nothing better in this world than this video.
It has been an amazingly busy (and great) summer. As the cold, iron grip of another busy season at my work continues to tighten ’round my throat, I wanted to stop and write about one of the best moments of the summer for me.
My cousin Missy got married on September 10th to her girlfriend Amelia. Unfortunately for Amelia, I can’t call her Amelia, because I got introduced to her as Ed and ever since then she’s been Ed (or Edmazelington, for short – why that is apt, I’ll get into later). Why Ed? Well, there’s any number of reasons.
Missy and Ed let me stay at their place for a couple of days before their rehearsal, and having gone through the whole wedding thing not that long ago, I gotta say – they handled the whole thing like champs. It was just awesome to see them both so relaxed and happy through a really emotional, crazy and busy time. I know that weddings are supposed to be these times of joy and great feelings, and they are, don’t get me wrong – but they also happen to be a terrifying crucible that uses the white-hot flame of emotions to forge people (and families) together. People get burned by that heat, there is pain involved. Goddamn it was strange to watch it happening to someone else, not only because it makes you feel less alone, but somehow getting married turned me into the world’s biggest wuss when it comes to weddings. Case in point – my Grandfather sings one verse of one song a capella at the wedding and I dissolve into a puddle of tears that takes me half an hour to recover from. OH FUCK I AM CRYING AGAIN LISTENING TO THAT FUCKING SONG ON YOUTUBE.
Missy is three years older than me and we grew up together until her family moved away to Minnesota, just before I started elementary school. We were raised in that classic Ukrainian way, where everyone in the family just sort of communally raises each other’s kids. It’s convenient, because it means you can share the burden, giving you plenty of opportunities for smoke breaks and a chance to refill your wine glass. I’ve always considered her to be less a cousin and more a sister, and growing up a sensitive and pretty friendless only child it was really her and my cousin Kyle that were my siblings, my best friends, and the only people who really made me feel like it was okay to be whatever the hell it was I was. Our family has gone through some crap over the years, but I’ll say this – my cousins have always stuck with each other. Even when some of us (read: me) acted like jerks, there’s always a hand out and an understanding word when it really matters. Also, Missy has terrified some ex-girlfriends. For someone who weighs about as much as my left leg, she comes off like Ray Lewis coming at a dude when she wants to.
However, Missy still acted like my sister, and like all decent, upstanding older sisters she tried to drown me in the pool and tied me up and left me in the basement with the Casio keyboard demo going for 2 hours playing a MIDI version of “Little Red Corvette” . When I was 5 she told me there was no Santa Claus.
There are a lot of stories about this kind of thing for Missy and I, and for years I’ve teased her about how she used to push me around.There’s no question – Missy was older than me, she was cooler than me, and she sure as shit was smarter than I was, so I had better get the hell in line. Anyone who has spent any amount of time with Missy, even now, would totally get what I’m saying. She has this incredible energy and charisma that just seems to bend reality around her. She is hard not to love.
One of the tasks I had before the wedding was to dig through all of our family’s old scrapbooks, looking for photos to use in their slide show. Missy and I were both the first kids in our family, and mother of God our parents loved to take photos of us. So many of those photos are of us together, and we were unbelievably adorable.
What is crazy is that in every photo of us when I’m not looking at the camera, I’m looking at Missy. I can actually remember my Mom shouting Colin, look at the camera at me, when I was busy just staring at Missy, looking for the next thing she was going to do that I was going to copy. That pure adoration was born of a real love for a girl that I always looked up to, who always seemed so cool and forthright and sure of herself even when she probably didn’t feel that way. Missy’s the reason I thought it was totally normal for an 8-year-old boy to take jazz dance, why I played and sang Me and Bobby McGee in front of the entire school in elementary despite a near-complete lack of talent, why I joined choir and football at the same time. I saw Missy doing this stuff, thought that seemed like a great idea, and did it. Some of that stuff was hard, son. I got teased pretty bad, but it was never enough to make me quit; I always thought to myself “Missy did this crap, and she is way cooler than everyone I know, so she’s gotta be on to something.” The best thing is that she was; if I hadn’t learned how to dance, I probably would never have met my wife. And there were a lot of cute girls in choir.
For the past few years I’ve had the chance to see that same amazing girl finding and falling in love with someone who is just so easy to adore – so clever and thoughtful, so giving of her energy and time and willing to commit herself fully to what she loves. And Ed performs in drag as Ferris Bueller.
I just want to thank Ed so much for finding Missy, for loving my amazing cousin so openly and beautifully and for being someone new to adore, and to thank Missy for bringing a new sister into my life. I love them both so much.
Work is finally slowing down after a totally crazy spring, and it’s been nice to take some time off and visit some really pretty country and celebrate Nesi and I’s first year anniversary. Kelowna and Penticton were both just amazing, and wine touring was a blast. We tried some really amazing wines and came back with quite a few bottles as well. Laughing Stock vineyards produces some totally amazing wines, including their Portfolio 08, which might have been one of the best reds I’ve ever tasted. Huge points on the design front, too, as they have some of the most distinct and coherent branding I’ve ever seen (which may have impacted my feelings about the wine, embarrassingly). It was such a pleasure to just hop in our car and cruise from vineyard to vineyard, soaking up some sun (and a few glasses of Pinot Gris), meeting the people at the vineyards who were all very nice and (with the exception of Mission Hill) really genuine. Mission Hill had that vibe where you kept expecting everything that you read or saw was appended with TM or ©.
Unfortunately things haven’t been entirely magical this summer in the pet department, as our poor kitty Meak satisfied his fever for earplugs with yet more earplugs, which resulted in an obstruction at the point where his stomach connected to his large intestine. If you can imagine the way that a rubber stopper plugs a bottle of wine, you’ve got it. Poor Meakles couldn’t pass anything out of his stomach, and he had to get surgery to remove it.
Poor guy ended up getting an infection, which led to some awesome medieval medicine-style shit. We had to apply hot compresses to his incision to draw out the putrescence, which made me feel like I should have been wearing a robe and reciting eldritch incantations by candlelight. Meak just purred the whole way though it, which may have been related to the fact that he got to take his cone off. Meak vs. the cone was basically a nonstop comedy classic, as the absence of functional whiskers made it kind of impossible to navigate without bumping into everything while transforming him into EmoMeak, whose favorite band is clearly My Chemical Romance.
He’s all better, now, and back to being an asshole and peeing on our bed every time I don’t let him outside often enough which I am supposed to say is a good thing. The cone was frickin’ funny though.
Anyway, I solemnly swear to do some more of this stuff before the end of the summer, and probably with more of a point than this post. Hope you’re having a great summer wherever you are.
I’ve been listening to the new Britney Spears album at a clip that is completely embarrassing. Sometime on the bus ride home last night I was struck by how every pop starlet can be summarized by their relationship to the words “fuck” and “awesome”. What, do I mean? See below. Is this an April fools joke? No, I actually frantically wrote this down so I wouldn’t forget. Does that make me a giant loser? Probably, but I thought of it first so screw you.
Every female pop star’s image and music can be summarized by their relationship between “fuck” and “awesome”. Using a combination of these two words, you can summarize any For examples, please see below (credit to Jody Rosen of Slate for the genesis of this idea re: Beyonce)
The new Britney Spears album is amazing. It’s as if she took elements of everyone above, went to her producers and said – I WANT THAT ONE. The weird thing about it, at least to my ear, is that it doesn’t sound derivative. It just makes you realize how much this batch of pop stars aped from Britney (and, of course, Madonna before her). And some of the tracks are off the chaiiin, yo. I could listen to the dubstep dance break on “Hold it Against Me” 700 times in a row and still find new, weird shit going on. It’s so amazing that while we all bitch and whine about how derivative and samey some of this music is, some of it is just so amazing. The producers on these tracks deserve so much credit for that. Dr. Luke alone has created so much of the pop music on the radio these days, it’s ridiculous, and props to him – you know he placed a bet with Max Martin a couple of years ago that he could turn anyone into a pop star, no matter how dumb, trashy and strange-looking they are. And now we have Ke$ha.
I was reading Don Delillo’s White Noise a little while ago; the story is bookended by two scenes in the Metropolitan Museum of Modern Art. They discuss a real-world piece of art, 24-hour Psycho by Douglas Gordon. The piece is basically Hitchcock’s original, slowed down to two frames per second, so the film takes literally 24 hours to watch from end-to-end. The book discusses how the alteration of the movie has an effect on the viewer that combines the distortion of time with the contemplation of individual frames, a sort of slideshow that disrupts the suspense in the film but replaces it with a different kind of feeling:
The less there was to see, the harder he looked, the more he saw. This was the point. To see what’s here, finally to look and to know you’re looking, to feel time passing, to be alive to what is happening in the smallest registers of motion.
This got me thinking about the way canonization happens – how certain bits of art become permanent, mandatory components of our cultural language while others seem to wither and desiccate until they vanish. Psycho is a legendary movie – considered influential and terrifying, even to modern audiences. A movie with that much resonance carries with it a huge amount of expectation upon viewing. Here’s what’s weird – I like Psycho, but the movie is actually kind of ruined for me. It’s ruined because the first time I saw it wasn’t the original Hitchcock version – it was the 1998 remake. Now, the remake is pretty unique because it is shot-for-shot – literally every scene is blocked and shot identically to the original, with different actors and slightly different sets. And it is just awful.
There are so many things wrong with Psycho 1998 – Anne Heche fills the role of Janet Leigh’s character, and displays that strange Hecheiness she has that makes you think she is the human-form representative of a race of oatmeal-based life forms that are due to invade our planet at any moment. There are some god-awful bits of CGI that fill in for when Lars Von Trier couldn’t find a faithful adaptation of the original set or characters. As bad as those are, however, nothing compares to the horror (and not in a good way) of Vince Vaughn as Norman Bates. I know that Vince was once considered a respected dramatic actor, but watch this scene and tell me you don’t think at some point he’s going to go off about maple syrup or motorboating.
Honestly, it’s funny how 20 pounds heavier makes him 137% funnier.
What’s so crazy about film is how you just can’t cover it. Remakes of originals in film just seem derivative or outright copies. I’ve been trying to think of an example of a great movie “cover”, and I just can’t think of one.
So what is it with music that makes it more prone to covering? Lord knows there are some terrible covers (and cover bands) out there, and people are going to have great music tainted by bad covers the same way that Psycho got tainted for me. Last Friday I saw a band at the Rose and Crown whose interpretations of terrible 90’s songs were primarily built around replacing all instances of the words “women” or “lady” with “bitches” or “bitch”. This, sadly, was not performance art.
Meanwhile, covering a song can do all sorts of amazing things to your regard for the original. Jose Gonzalez’s covers of The Knife’s “Heartbeats” and “Teardrop” by Massive Attack strip the songs of their electro sheen and expose the songwriting and melodies underneath. Sinatra’s covers of Broadway standards added layers of sadness and heartache to songs that were deeply unpopular with the cool kids. Then there’s Owen Pallet’s covers of Mariah Carey.
Isn’t that what’s so great about covers? It’s like Delillo said about 24-Hour Psycho – by altering the song, changing its basic formulations, remixing, editing and playing with the originals, you not only get a new piece of art, you get a piece of commentary on the original that forces the listener to consider what it is about the original that is changed and what is the same – the “songiness” of the song. What I love about the time we live in is you don’t have to wait for canonization or critical commentary before tracks are getting ripped up, changed, altered and remixed. By giving artists license to use bits and bobs of other people’s work, we are creating an amazing feedback loop on our own culture at an unprecedented rate. There’s a fear of what this means for our culture, that originality is dead and we are just going to reuse our own detritus over and over again until it is devoid of meaning. And who knows – maybe that’s true, but as long as I’m getting James Blake’s Dubstep remake of “Limit to Your Love” by Feist, I’m an incredibly happy camper.
Seriously, watch and listen to this, preferably with some good headphones or some badass subwoofer around. Or just buy the album. It’s incredible, strange and awesome.